Dave Lozo’s Bag Skate is a weekly feature that’s named as such because A) it’s kinda part mailbag, and B), like a bag skate, it’s very long. Unlike a bag skate, however, it is very enjoyable. Lozo worked for NHL.com for five years, three months, and 19 days (seriously), and finally left after getting his resumé to the point where he was qualified to write somewhere as prestigious as Backhand Shelf.
The process for voting on NHL awards is flawed. That’s not an indictment of the PHWA; it’s just the way it is for any sport with this many teams and games.
Hockey fans doused themselves in gasoline and lit a match in protest this week when the approximately 200 voters collectively did not consider Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin among the three finalists for the Calder Trophy. There was a march on the PHWA headquarters as fans demanded to know the names of the people who dared to strip Brodin of a chance to win an award that has been claimed in recent years by such luminaries as Steve Mason and Tyler Myers.
Should Brodin have been a finalist? Probably. But the deeper problem is PHWA voters are in an impossible situation that lacks a great solution.
I am not a PHWA member. I have no inside information about who makes up the PHWA, but let’s invent a hypothetical number and say 100 of the 200 voters earn their salaries by covering an NHL team full-time. To some, being a hockey writer is the greatest job on the planet. You watch hockey all day and write about hockey and talk to hockey players and get to go in the locker room and OMG I heard you on the radio and saw you on TV that’s the coolest job ever.
And it is. However, it’s also a lot of work, especially if you’re on a beat.
Let’s say you cover the Minnesota Wild full-time. You don’t cover all 82 games. You take a week off and miss four of them, likely all at home. That’s 78 nights during a six-month span in which you are ensconced in your team’s games. On a game day, you wake up in the morning and attend the morning skate. You get to the rink for the game at about 5 p.m. local time. The puck is dropped at 7 p.m. The game ends at 9:30. You get done with interviews and transcription at10:15. You finish your night’s writing at 11:30. You get home at 12:30. You watch reruns of 30 Rock and fall asleep at 2 with a half-eaten turkey wrap on your chest.
That’s a long day in which your sole focus is the Minnesota Wild.
Now remember that 41 of the games will be played nowhere near the comfort of your home. You will spend a chunk of your season on the road, at airports, on planes, in hotels, eating terrible food while your pants that felt loose in September are so tight in April that they cause your internal organs to become bruised. Your flights either take off before sunrise or directly after you file postgame so you can get to practice the following day in a new city.
Your life is consumed by one team for more than a half a year and you’re not exactly keeping up to date with the zone starts of Jonathan Huberdeau.
Considering all that is required if you are on a beat, how can anyone expect that person to construct an informed, educated opinion about the happenings involving the 600 other players on the 29 other teams in the NHL? When it’s the first Sunday after the end of the season and you’re sitting there with your ballot, how on Earth can you have an intelligent thought about how Nail Yakupov, Brandon Saad or anyone truly performed? It’s an impossible situation for which that person can’t be blamed.
Many writers rely on statistics and opinions of peers and scouts they trust, but that too is a plan with holes and how you wind up with Norris finalists who are 1-2-3 in scoring. What are the statistics you are looking at anyway? Plus/minus? Corsi? If you’re not able to watch every game, sure, your pal in Florida can tell you about the greatness of Hurberdeau, but in relation to Brodin, Saad or Yakupov? Scouts are in the same boat.
Even if you’re not a beat writer, it’s still impossible to form a truly educated opinion. This season, I spent about 24 nights at a rink and I do my best to watch as much hockey as possible when home, but I’ve probably seen Brodin play about two games. Even with GCL or Center Ice, you have to make a decision about what game you’re going to watch. For me, Yakupov was the best rookie I watched, but I saw far more of his games than I did of anyone else because the Oilers were a far more compelling team to me — again, another opinion — than most.
Maybe you’d like beat writers to spend their non-game nights at home cycling through their Center Ice package to watch as many game as possible. You should run that by that writer’s wife/husband that he/she never gets to see. Or perhaps sidle up to that writer’s child and say, “I know you haven’t seen your daddy in two weeks, but he needs to watch Canucks-Predators in order to get a better feel for Ryan Kesler’s Selke worthiness, so you’ll get ice cream with him another time.”
Different voters trust different data, hence the wildly different opinions in this year’s Calder voting. In the end, it’s going to come down to a person spending a couple of hours sifting through numbers at season’s end, and how that writer interprets the data plays the biggest role in the decision.
So what’s the solution?
The best I’ve got is using the Masterton Trophy system as a model. Let every group of local journalists nominate a Hart, Calder, Norris, etc. candidate at season’s end. Open the voting to everyone for one week at the end of the regular season. Let all the voters get an extended opportunity to ruminate on the candidates, delve a little deeper. With 14 teams done for the season, that’s 14 groups of writers who will have more time to examine candidates. It doesn’t mean people will make better decisions, but it would create an opportunity for better decisions.
What happens in situations where teams have two viable Hart candidates, like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Chicago? Instead of them splitting the vote nationally, you entrust that city’s writers to tell you who is more worthy of your vote. You’d be letting people who are, ideally, more informed on certain players than you do the heavy lifting early in the process, freeing you to spend a week breaking down each team’s nominee at the end of the process.
There is no perfect system. Maybe we can do something like in Minority Report and turn 10 people into Pre-Cog-types who do nothing but watch every NHL game in a shallow pool and offer objective opinions about the players. Perhaps thinning the herd a bit — for instance, ostracizing anyone that had Jake Muzzin in their Calder top 3 — would result in better decisions.
But who would decide on those who decide? Perhaps it’s best we all just accept that individual awards in team sports are foolish at their core and not take them so seriously, but at the same time, owners have to pay bonuses in some instances based on these awards. There has to be a better way.
Distinct kicking motion sickness
What are the three most terrifying words in the English language? Let’s get married? I am pregnant? The Hangover sequel? It’s all debatable, but I’m betting coaches and players tremble after a goal when the phrase “distinct kicking motion” gets tossed around.
“Distinct kicking motion” has always reminded me of George Carlin’s bit about excess words. Don’t use three words when one will suffice. It’s not a rain event; it’s rain. Why not just go with “kicking motion” or “kicking?” Wouldn’t we have to assume if we can see a kicking motion, it must be distinct? And wouldn’t a kicking motion just be a kick? I’ve never heard of an onside kicking motion in football. Maybe we can go the other way on this terminology and add more words. “No goal. The puck was put into the net by a display of kicking force that propelled the puck into motion distinctly.”
The Senators’ comeback in Game 4 against the Canadiens was distinctly kicked into motion by a third-period goal that appeared to have a distinct kicking motion, but it was deemed a good goal by the referees on the ice and the watchful eyes in Toronto. Some agreed with the call; some did not. Based on my eyes that require prescription glasses, it should have been no goal.
The problem is the lack of consistency with the call. It’s as if what exactly defines a kick or distinct or motion changes with each passing season or game. Let’s take a look at three goals that have been reviewed because of a potential motion of distinct kicking and what the NHL decided.
However, the pass is a rocket and about eight inches too far in front of him. So what does he do? He takes his left skate blade that was once pointed across the ice and opens it up so the puck can hit it. Not only does Zibanejad make perfect contact, his leg and skate move forward toward the open net, which propels the puck into the net.
That’s about as distinct as it gets. Yet, it was ruled a goal. Maybe you’re thinking it was ruled a goal on the ice and there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn it. Fair enough. So let’s look at the second goal in my tutorial.
After a lengthy review, this was somehow ruled a distinct kicking motion despite the laws of kicking physics and the goal was taken away. If you ever get a chance to play soccer or attempt field goals, attack the ball at full speed, then turn your body sideways at the last second and see how far you “kick” the ball.
When you watch the replay, you see Bertuzzi park himself at the top of Steve Mason’s crease and commit the infraction pretty blatantly. Bertuzzi not only kicks the puck into the net, but he does it in a way very few players do. He actually lifts his skate off the ice and swings it like a pendulum into the path of the moving puck to redirect it into the net. If Daniel Sedin kicked his puck, then Bertuzzi most certainly kicked this one.
Of course, it goes to review and is ruled a good goal despite the call on the ice.
The NHL may as well just allow for pucks to be kicked into the net at this point. Some say that’s too dangerous, having people with blades on their feet swinging them wildly in an effort to score a goal. But as long as the blade remains parallel to the ice, there’s no danger, and those goals may as well just count. Clearly there’s no template for defines a distinct kicking motion, so let’s get the controversy out as best as possible.
Four letters: This year’s Kings, insects, 8-year-olds
So you’re taking Qs. I have a few.
The LA Kings got on a great run last year, at just the right time. They merged, got momentum (that naughty mistress) and rode that all the way to the cup. I’m not seeing any team on that type of run this year, is there one?
Of all the things that annoy me more than they should (Dane Cook’s fame, people who don’t understand the left side of the escalator is for walking), spending this season listening to people say a form of, “You can’t dismiss 8 seeds because, after all, the Kings won it all as an 8 seed last year” makes me feel like my eyeballs are going to explode and shoot boiling blood all over my television like nothing else. It was literally a once in a lifetime event, and suddenly people think it’s going to happen all the time.
This is like when the Stanley Cup Final was Blackhawks-Flyers and people began saying you didn’t need an elite goaltender to win the Cup these days. Since then, the Cup Final goaltenders have been Roberto Luongo, Tim Thomas, Martin Brodeur and Jonathan Quick. Also, Antti Niemi won the Cup in 2010 and may win the Vezina in 2013. So maybe let’s not overreact to an anomaly.
But since you asked, the Sharks seem like a different strain of the Kings. They closed strong after making some trades (12-5-1), although San Jose dumped Ryane Clowe, Michal Handzus and Douglas Murray for picks while the Kings acquired Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson and fired their coach. In both cases, the teams dropped some dead weight and it made them better overall clubs.
The Kings beat a 1, 2 and 3 seed along the way to win the West. The Sharks beat the third-seeded Canucks and will likely have to go through top-seeded Chicago in the next round and the Ducks could be there in the conference final as the second seed. The Sharks aren’t an 8 seed but they are the closest thing out there to the 2012 Kings.
If you were an insect, which one would you be?
I’d go with the Brazilian Wandering Spider. First of all, what a cool name for an animal. I’m in favor of starting a movement to have this become Robyn Regher’s nickname, as he is the only current NHL player who was born in Brazil. The only other player born in Brazil was a goalie by the name of Mike Greenlay, who played two games for the Oilers in 1990. Imagine if after Regher lays a big hit on somebody, Bob Cole dryly proclaims, “The Brazilian Wandering Spider has stalked and attacked his prey, stinging Lucic with a biting hit.”
Maybe Bob wouldn’t say it in such a dumb manner but you get my drift.
Based on some Internet searching, the Brazilian Wandering Spider is arguably the deadliest spider on the planet and one of the few that attacks humans. However, not all of its bites result in death, and this is the best part — a bite from a Brazilian Wandering Spider has been known to result in men receiving a painful four-hour erection. That’s just fantastic. I bet most men who are bitten by this spider spend the first hour with their erection thinking they’re evolving into some sort of sexual superhero, like a cross between Spider-Man and Peter North, before sheepishly asking their mom for a ride to the hospital.
With that in mind, five guys who come to mind for either cap-forced trade or buyout are Danny Briere, Ryan Malone, Bobby Ryan, Rene Bourque and Jussi Jokinen. Check back in July to see how right/wrong/but probably wrong I am about these guys.
(E-mail dave111177 at gmail dot com with your questions about hockey, insects, where statistics come from or whatever)
This week in undisclosed injuries
(For whatever reason, it’s become customary in hockey for teams to withhold injury information or offer vague “upper-body” or “lower-body” tags on ailments. That leaves fans and reporters to speculate and guess as to the nature of the injury. Every week, I will examine the latest unknown injuries and offer my best guesses as to what they really are.)
For the Blackhawks, goaltender Ray Emery (toe fungus) and center Dave Bolland (hemorrhoids) have yet to play in their series against the Wild.
The Kings are still without defenseman Matt Greene (bad breath) and he isn’t expected back any time soon.
The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby is back from a broken jaw, but Brooks Orpik (cankles) remains a question mark.
Senators defenseman Patrick Wiercoch (feels fat) missed Game 4 against Montreal after coming down with his affliction in Game 3.